This Lullaby- Sarah Dessen

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

This Lullaby take place in the summer after Remy’s summer graduates from high school.  Remy’s mom has been married five times and Remy’s father abandoned her mother before Remy was born (then dies soon after, leaving behind only a song called “This Lullaby” which is about what a terrible father he would be).  Her family history leaves Remy very skeptical about love.  She doesn’t believe love can last or that falling in love is worth the risk of being heartbroken.  When Dexter literally crashes into her world, Remy is forced to decide whether or not love is worth the risk.

This is the first Sarah Dessen book I’ve read and I guess I understand the appeal.  This was an enjoyable read in which the characters learn things and grow as people, but truth be told I didn’t love this book.  I had difficulties with a couple of the characters and wasn’t really invested in the Remy-Dexter relationship.

Remy was a frustrating character a lot of the time, especially as the book kept going and it seemed she was learning nothing.  Remy thinks she has love all figured out, but clearly she doesn’t.  It was frustrating to watch her give up before even trying to sustain a relationship with Dexter.  It was also frustrating to watch her bounce around in casual relationships, as though this is all she deserved.  On the other hand, though, Remy was funny, a caring and loyal friend, and an astute observer of others, even if she had difficulty analyzing her own feelings.  Also, she was bit of a neat freak.  I have a weakness for neat freak characters (and real-life friends, too, I have an abundance of Virgos in my life).

Dexter, though, was sort of blah and I was totally not expecting that given I’d heard much love for the guy.  I mean, I never really understood the attraction to musicians or gangly awkward guys, so maybe he’s just not my type.  Or maybe it was the fact that he sorta kinda reminded me of my brother-in-law, who is in a band and is skinny and offbeat and hipster and cheats at every game he plays (all these things could be said about Dexter, too).  And I like my brother-in-law just fine, but you know, I don’t really want to picture him as the romantic lead in a book I’m reading.

Remy’s mom confused me, too.  As in, the mom we see at the start of the book is irresponsible and immature, but by the end she seems to have her head squarely on her shoulders and gives Remy some really great advice about taking risks in life/love.  I think we were supposed to see Remy’s mother change as Remy’s impression of her mother changes from my-mom-is-the-worst to my-mom-is-pretty-great-despite-her-shortcomings, but what I got was a really confused image of who her mother actually was.

And then there was this little tiny insignificant plot point that really bothered me.  Remy’s first sexual experience was being date-raped while she was drunk.  However, this is mostly glossed over.  Remy deals with the trauma by having sex with a string of meaningless boys.  I suppose some time has passed between that incident and the story, so it wasn’t really a focal point, but either deal with the issue of rape or don’t put it in there in the first place.  Remy’s family life is more than enough for me to believe that she’d have difficulties with love and sex.

The thing is, I bet I would have loved this story as an older teen as I struggled with some of the same conflicts about love that Remy did.  However, as an adult it fell more into the “it wasn’t bad” category.  I know some of you would love quirky Dexter and tough-as-nails Remy, so if hipster musicians are your key to the swoons, try this one.  Avoid this if you are the person who hates that girlfriend who must be constantly reassured that she will someday meet someone and love is real.

Monday Memories: The Giver- Lois Lowry

Ok, this is sort of a cheating memory post because I haven’t read this book before, but it is a book that was very popular during my childhood and which I probably should have read back then.  But somehow I was the only child of my generation who did not have to read The Giver in school or who did not read it for fun.  I do remember people telling me I needed to read this book and that it was awesome.  I am, however, ridiculously leery of partaking in anything that everyone agrees is awesome (see also: Inception, The Help, Downton Abbey, etc.) because it might turn out that these things are like red velvet cupcakes or Jeffrey Eugenides or stainless steel appliances.  That is, that I might not understand why people like these things SO MUCH and I can recognize that they are not bad, but under no circumstances are they as amazing as people seem to claim.  Anyways, after nearly twenty years of absurdly refusing to read The Giver, I picked it up at the used book store on a particularly long browsing expedition.

The Giver is not a red velvet cupcake.  The Giver is more like a 75 degree sunny day.  Everyone loves it and I actually agree with them.

Caution: I am going to spoiler my way through this one, seeing as I am pretty sure most people have read it by now.

This book was always described to me as being about a boy who sees color in a black and white world.  I always thought that sounded like a stupid premise.  That is, however, a very simplistic description of the plot of the book.  The color thing is only part of the larger story of how life’s highs are accompanied by its lows and that the only life worth living is one that is both wonderful and painful.  Our main character, Jonas, lives in a pain-free, choice-free world.  It is, on the surface, a mostly decent world.  There are not really any highs or lows to make life particularly pleasant, but no one ever feels pain and feelings of anger or disappointment are always smoothed over quickly.  Jonas, however, is special.  He is chosen be the town’s new Receiver, the person who will carry all the pleasant and painful memories of the history of the world for his civilization.  These memories are transmitted to him by the titular character, the Giver.  From the Giver’s memories, Jonas learns about beauty, emotion, physical and psychological pain, grief, and death.  Jonas finds it very difficult to continue living the lies of his black and white society.  In the end he does the unthinkable– he makes the choice to leave town to seek a new, unknown, possibly painful, possibly love-filled life.  Such a hopeful little book.

The Giver is definitely written to a youthful audience, but addresses some mature themes in an age-appropriate way and would be be perfect discussion fodder for the kiddos.  And yes, 6th grade English teacher, I should have heeded your recommendations and read more of the books on your special shelf, like this one, instead of all those Little House spinoff books.

Monday Memories: We Have Always Lived in the Castle- Shirley Jackson

I am planning on doing a weekly post called “Monday Memories” in which I talk about my book and reading memories, post about re-reads, or otherwise reflect on the literary life (that phrase makes me feel like such a snob, but I can’t think of a better way to put it).  Books have been a major force in my life and I’d like to take a little time to acknowledge the various ways in which reading has shaped me.

Shirley Jackson has been a favorite author of mine since my teenage years… I discovered Shirley Jackson the way (I assume) most people do- as a middle schooler reading the short story, “The Lottery.”  Coincidentally, a movie version of Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was released around the same time we read “The Lottery” in school.  I used to fancy myself a fan of ghost stories, so I was pretty excited to watch The Haunting… I don’t think I knew going in that it was based on a book by Shirley Jackson or that it was the same Shirley Jackson who’d written the short story I’d loved in school.  I think that there was a “based on the book” credit in the opening, so watching the movie (which I remember as being not great, although it helped explain why Owen Wilson’s nose is so flat) inspired me to check out Jackson’s Haunting and at some point I made the connection that she was the writer of “The Lottery.”  I later went on to read all of her published work.

At some point in high school I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle and I was tickled to come across a few blog reviews which reminded me of how awesome Jackson was and inspired me to get my re-read on.  I decided to borrow the audiobook from the library, so that I could stop listening to radio commercials while I drive.

This story is creepy.  The narrator, Merrikat Blackwood, lives in relative seclusion with her older sister, Constance, and her elderly Uncle Julian… the rest of the Blackwoods are dead.  The Blackwoods are taunted and hated by the villagers for reasons that slowly come out as the book progresses.  This book offers a look into the mind of someone who is, at the very least, out of touch with reality.  At the same time, though, Merrikat is so very tied to the everyday (Today we neaten the house. Tuesday and Fridays I go to the village…etc) that her craziness sneaks up on you and fools you and you sympathize with her.  This is what Jackson excels at- twisting the everyday, the ordinary, and the usual into the creepy and disturbing.  That is exactly the sort of creepy that is worth reading and re-reading.

I am now compelled to go re-read all the Shirley Jackson I can find.  (Sadly, I think my mom got rid of all the books I left at her house during college and that I may have to rebuild my collection.)  If you have not read Shirley Jackson, I highly recommend you do.  She is a fabulous writer and I only wish she were more prolific!